Big Ideas Save Small Town

“Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right
when they tell us that nothing is
great or little otherwise than by comparison.”
~ Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

By Mark Schmeltzer

Casey, IL, is rapidly building a big name for itself. Since the Great Recession devastated so many small, rural communities along America’s interstates, Casey residents have been putting their faith in big things to attract tourists and save their town. Thankfully, people are stopping to notice.

October’s cool but comfortable temperatures are ideal for taking one last road trip before winter, and it’s well worth the roughly three-hour drive from Chicago to this settlement of 2,700 people in East Central Illinois. It’s here you can marvel at massive replicas of common, everyday objects that dwarf the town’s residents and their dwellings. And in what may a record in itself, an astonishing eight of these items are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

America’s classic road trips have always included detours to small bergs boasting of some remarkable megastructure of distinction. For example, you can see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, KS. Or the World’s Largest Cherry Pie in Charlevoix, MI. Or the World’s Tallest Thermometer in Baker, CA.

But if you prefer to gawk at multiple roadside leviathans without doing a lot of driving in between, you can’t beat Casey for one-stop-shopping. What began as a bid to put the small town on the map for day trippers and rubberneckers soon became a community obsession and a veritable outdoor museum of whopping wonders.

You can roam Casey’s charming main streets and feel like you’re Johnathan Swift’s intrepid traveler lost in a land of giants. But this Brobdingnagian adventure comes without the perils of sailing the high seas and you can also stop and patronize any one of Casey’s small businesses.

That’s the big gamble behind the town’s recent investment in prodigious public displays. And it was the brainchild of local

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